Can we go all the way to reconciliation, to the forgiveness exampled to us in South Africa? A lot of us would say, "Now is not the time, now is the time for structural change." When we were there with the world's clergy on Oct 13th - "Moral Monday" - there was confession, forgiveness and redemption in the air. The ministers, nuns and rabbis were definitely militant, too, but theirs is a softer revolution than some would like. My own feeling is that we have to be disarming to emotions as well as guns.
There is a trick here that we would need to discuss with Dr. King... Presenting in the media a grandfatherly cop who undoubtedly has a family that fears for his safety, risks humanizing a white supremacist structure that can't be tolerated or cooperated with. Although it seems possible that in conversation in a trusting setting that this officer might even be, in some sense, "on our side." He looks to be close to retirement age, and who knows what's going through his mind here? He did a brave thing, with the wisdom of being older and unafraid, apparently, of official reprimand.
You can see in some of the photos, a much younger cop, in his 30's staring at him with surprise. Let us hope that the 25 or 30 years this younger man will be on the force that he will remember this hug and be less afraid of the black majority of his town. (And have African-american police standing with him who help him become, truly, a "Peace Officer.") Did he learn something when Dragonfly physically contacted the "skirmish line" and the older man responded like an old friend? The struggle continues.
The Goldman Sachs-friendly “cap and trade” scam. How does that look now? The phantasmagoria of benign billionaires. Where is Richard Branson’s veggie-powered jet? Then there are green jobs, green shopping, green malls, green war…. years of this... the Big Green Stall. And then came the Peoples’ Climate March last month.
I’m typing this on the F Train coming into Manhattan from Brooklyn, and I remember a sign from the PCM that graced these blurring walls. It said “What puts bankers and hipsters in the same march?” Bankers and hipsters? It is language like this –- denying that there is any opposition at all –- which makes me afraid that the march was part of the Big Green Stall. (I hope not! We sure had a good time! It was like carnavale with honey bees!)
I read some of Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything” in The Nation. I felt like she could title it: “The Climate Revolution for Dummies.” She left me feeling that I’ve been avoiding the great fact of the Earth’s crisis. There is something huge that we all know but can’t say out loud.
Here it is: An elite that holds economic power must have its money and power taken from it. Period. That is what leaving oil reserves underground means. That is what cutting emissions means. The Climate cannot be stabilized without seizing the assets of the fossil fuel industrial complex, which will send waves of disinvestment out through Wall Street and beyond.
And that is what is happening in Ferguson. I’m writing this on the 76th day after Michael Brown was murdered in cold blood by a Ferguson cop. The struggle in Ferguson is for power. White governments and white police forces are having power taken from them. They cannot institute a three year phase-in of “Diversity” and “Community Sensitivity Training.” The city must relinquish power to the community now. Economic, legal, political power has killed their youth, and the demand is not just to stop the killing, but for the mayor and sheriff to step down, the local college to stop, traffic to stop when it gets in the way, the churches to open their doors to people…
Over 76 days the black youth of St. Louis have kept this issue alive before the world: the killing must stop. The power that creates these murders as a part of its idea of governing is now turning that power over. Meanwhile, while as the clock ticks down, a parallel and competing society insists on governing itself.
I’m not doing Ferguson justice, because I came to know something visceral about taking power when I was in Ferguson and saw a second government created before my eyes in a torrential downpour surrounded by day-glow militarized riot-ready police smacking their night sticks on their shields. The new government was made by dances, speeches, prayers, silence, and the rhythmic recitation of names of the dead with the numbers of their young ages.
A reader migt think that this is not a real government. Incantations, public confessions, sobbing in the rain and raising a fist in not governing. Let me say “You had to be there.” Or no, “You ARE there.” You are there if you are ending the power of the oppressor that seeks to control you. Imagine what this sergeant is going through, embraced by Dragonfly from our church. He may feel that the power is shifting in a basic way, from unconditional and implacably political love. His life is turning in a new direction.
The Climate Revolution won't be a parade with permits. Bankers and hipsters alike will by hugged by visionaries with that mix forgiveness with demands are not negotiable.
After a day in Ferguson and out at Monsanto World Headquarters, my baggage shows up. Deposited on our doorstep without an explanation. Because there isn't one. There couldn't be one. We saw the duffel bag loaded on to the plane in Philly, then in St. Louis everyone got their bags but me.
There is no question that the man at the baggage assistance desk was a cop. His idea of welcoming us to St. Louis was to call in the dog-sniffing unit. The smiling canine officer even introduced us to his dog, a brown lab named Linda. Did she sniff my bullhorn for gunpowder? Drugs? No, looking back on it – we think that they knew that there was a convergence this weekend; that the Ferguson activists asked for others to travel here. The cops wanted to know where we were staying, that’s all, the three Church of Stop Shopping folks, with our suspicious protest paraphernalia, tri-pods, polyester suits, pointy white shoes. It is that simple. We had to give them our address to get our stuff.
It is 71 days since Mike Brown was murdered. People are here from all over the world, responding to the invitation of the local activists, who are exhausted heroes, worn down and then rising again with love and anger. It is the gravity that some of us felt moving through us like a wind in Zuccotti Park, in the Wisconsin capitol rotunda, in Tahrir, in Gezi Park.
Why do these places become our moral stages? So often they come to our attention from suffering and murder. History has ripped open the totalitarian fabric, the shopping and policing, the surveillance and invisible toxins… There is an opening here and the government and corporations don’t control what is happening. Everyone finds this moment in time, these few weeks, absolutely full of a kind of love.
Today a couple hundred of us stood in a parking lot in a big circle and practiced seeing clearly into our extreme periphery; practiced sensing someone behind us; ran through each other carrying imaginary circles around our bodies that made it possible to not hit anyone. The dexterity of a radical crowd! We memorized names of people around us, hugged them, then dervished around them, creating the strange aerodynamics of a crowd surrounded by riot police. Growing the nimbleness of direct action!
Officer, come with us into this loving direct action. We will take your baton and gun. Fall into us. Float up on us. We are surprised by our emotions. Mike Brown and Eric Garner and all the lynchings give us instructions on how to live in a state of fierce survival and love is the active ingredient. Come with us. You will steal our things and lie to us if you insist on your false security, your constructions of tense fear. But doesn't part of you want to fall toward our vivid family?
We saw the cops and the sniffer-dog coming in and kept waiting for the old duffel to pop down the conveyor belt. Nothing. It gradually, very slowly, occurred to us, that my baggage would be inadmissible to this new nation state of Ferguson.
If I have a bullhorn in my luggage and that is a cultural signal to you that I might be capable of speaking to a gathering of citizens, exercising the most basic 1st Amendment right of expressive politics, that doesn't matter to you under the law. You do not have the right to declare Ferguson a 1st Amendment-free zone. You serve the United States Constitution, as do we all. You can determine very quickly that there is nothing illegal in my things, and let me do my work.
I walk along Central Park West 2 weeks after the Peoples Climate March. Buzzy, lonely people in bubbles of glass on wheels are talking to their dashboards, crossing Manhattan at 4 mph. Naomi K. says tell new stories. The story of the climate march can't be 400,000 people. We know that. That is only a view-count, a moderately viral click count. Our shattered attention span can't hold it. Maybe it'll be algorithmed into Utube's "What To Watch." But it's not a story. Stories stick to you, like old river mulch.
I'm standing on 59th, jay-walking the march route. I'm in the middle of the exhaust fumes of the bubbles. Where is the Earth's story here, the tale of interdependent life, of many living things? My eyes stray over to Central Park. Tell me the story. Earthalujah. Tell me. Do you trees remember our march? "Yes, the drought was over. The canyons filled with a rushing river. You were loons, frogs and wild bees and herons with banner-like wings and river otters..."
I want to run into the trees and then circle back into the traffic with the trees deputizing me as an honorary American Beech, with blackbirds singing in my eyes. At this point I'm so weirdly seductive, the car people are emerging from their rolling product pods. They are swimming up into the canyon. We take the elevator in the Time Warner building up to the glassy executive suites and sprout leaves from our foreheads. Scare you. Change you. Tell you a new story. "Nobody told you your 60 story glass building is empty? Your people have joined a media cooperative led by Chelsea Manning. Follow me. I must baptize you now into a living ecosystem. Can you sing, "Take Me to the River. Wash me down."
Tomorrow Sunday Sept 28th, 2:30 to 3:30 PM, we will remember Bendy, at the place where she lived in Tompkins Sq Park on the downtown edge, at the oval. The elm tree was healthy and unusually shaped, with a trunk that leaned to the east. Falsely called “structurally unsound” and “rotten” by an anonymous sign that preceded the chain saws, we have not been able to get to the bottom of why the tree was killed. The much-loved Bendy Tree was not in danger of falling down and posed no danger to anyone. She witnessed our comi-tragic efforts over the course of her 130 years, in this park that is the stage of the real-life play called the East Village.
We worked for a month on it and we're glad we did, but are also relieved to return to our own work. The climate march doesn't succeed as a stand alone event. It must quickly become practical radical work. Left alone, its success is as bland as a much-viewed television show sponsored by soaps, pain-killers and celebrities. After all, longtime polluters have embraced this "new era," but they have done this in the past as a stalling tactic. We agree with Sean Sweeney from big labor, who says that "fossil fuel company assets should be frozen immediately."
What would that look like? When it happens and we all shift toward living differently - what do we see? What is the seed moment? The first time I saw change begin was in the Disney store. I shouted at an inappropriate volume level, with some friends who did the same. Then we witnessed eight or nine customers respond in eight or nine different ways. One giggled, another shut his eyes and covered them with his hand, a woman was clapping her hands and egging us on, another seemed paralyzed, alternately smiling and frowning, and so on. I thought I saw this kind anarchic release from conformity in the tourists standing along the edges of our climate march on Sunday.
Here is our community elm tree, the Bendy Tree, in its last moments. Bendy was chopped down because a New York City arborist said it was "hollow" and "rotten" and "structurally unsound" and posed a threat to passersby... She was supposed to be 130 years old at this point, but I'm sure on the source of that age estimate.